COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq --
Some people would agree the word ‘punish’ is the perfect term to describe what Marines in the Al Anbar province near the western Euphrates River valley have been doing to insurgents in their local areas.
First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, kicked off Operation Punisher III the first week in August. Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, which has been providing support for 1st LAR and Task Force Highlander since the beginning of their deployment in March, launched Headquarters and 1st Platoon in support of the task force and the operation.
“Tanks help out in situations like this, where you have a large area of open terrain, because we are a highly mobile element that can cover a lot of ground very rapidly,” said Master Sgt. Jerri A. Schlickenmayer, the company tank leader. “We have high powered optics that can see large distances night or day, huge amounts of firepower, and great armor protection – especially from IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Nothing can destroy it, and it is very difficult to hide from, it’s a perfect tool.”
The tanks spent several days combing the battalion’s area of operation (AO) south of the Euphrates River. They searched several small villages and Bedouin (nomadic) camps, as well as caves and wadis (small oases).
“Our presence always makes the civilians happy,” said Lance Cpl. James A. Robson, a 120mm M1A1 Abrams tank main-gun loader with the company. “They know when we roll up they can feel safe and don’t need to be scared anymore because we are there to help. Their expressions are great, especially the kids; they see this huge piece of machinery rumble up, and they know it’s there to protect them, as part of their defense. It makes you feel great.”
Schlickenmayer, a Bismarck, N.D., native, said the Marines love going out to the field to help support other units during operations.
“Every time we go out, we seem to find something, whether it be a cache or just an ammunitions storage area or whatever. It makes the Marines feel like they are contributing, like they are a part of something, and they get excited about that,” Schlickenmayer said.
This time the Marines came back with a small cache of four mortar rounds and fuses, a 14.5mm heavy machinegun (larger than its more common cousin the 50-caliber machinegun the Marine Corps favors) which was outfitted with a mount and chair for anti-aircraft capabilities, and (500) brand new 14.5mm rounds still in their packaging.
“We come out and do overwatch, clearing, vehicle check points, and joint operations with grunts (infantrymen) through the cities and stuff, but nothing feels as good as when you come back with something like this,” said Cpl. Daniel J. Halpenny, a tank gunner with the company, as he indicated the machinegun. “We love finding stuff, that’s why we are here, to stop it before it reaches the cities and can be used against us. Who knows how many lives are saved just by finding one weapon, one round, one fuse. Every one of them counts.”
Operation Punisher III was an ongoing part of the regimental-wide Operation Mawtini, which is aimed at countering an insurgent surge of activity in the Al Anbar province, as well as disrupting the flow of weapons and other illegal items toward the urban areas.